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Can Green Bay Packers' run defense handle full dose of Michael Turner?

Oct. 7, 2011
 

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Green Bay Packers defensive end C.J. Wilson wraps up Falcons running back Michael Turner during the divisional playoff game against Atlanta Jan. 15 at the Georgia Dome. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

100-yard dash

Players who have produced the most 100-yard rushing games during the regular season since the start of the 2010 season.

Games Player Team
9 Michael Turner Falcons
9 Arian Foster Texans
9 Chris Johnson Titans
8 Maurice Jones-Drew Jaguars
8 Darren McFadden Raiders
6 Adrian Peterson Vikings

More

Some might be inclined to put BR rather than RB in front of Michael Turner’s name.

Judging by the physicality with which he operates, battering ram and not running back might be the more apt description of Turner’s position with the Atlanta Falcons.

Turner, who is listed as packing 244 pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame, has led the Falcons in rushing in each of the previous three seasons. The thickset running back is poised to do so again. His 304 yards is far more than what the rest of the team has gained combined (95 yards) through four games.

Run is what Turner has done since signing with Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent in March 2008. In 47 regular-season games he has rushed for 4,245 yards (90.3 yards per game) and ranks fourth on the team’s all-time list of ground gainers.

Turner’s production since becoming a Falcon is behind only the 4,817 yards of the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and the 4,797 of the Titans’ Chris Johnson. But whereas Peterson and Johnson have been sidelined just once since 2008, Turner missed five games in 2009 with an ankle injury.

Since the start of last season, no back has been better at churning out 100-yard games than Turner. He, Johnson and Arian Foster of the Texans have hit or exceeded that milestone nine times.

As expected, the Falcons’ record (18-3) when Turner gains 100 yards is excellent. A year ago Atlanta was 7-0, and this year it is 1-1 under those circumstances.

Although not a big difference, Atlanta has been more successful when Turner repeatedly gets the call. In games in which he carried 20 or more times, the Falcons are 23-2, including a perfect 10-0 in their last 20 regular-season games.

And make no mistake, Turner keeps busy. His 334 rushes led the NFL last year, and four times he gained more rushing yards than the team he faced.

Based on recent history, a battering ram is not what Green Bay wants to see Sunday night in the Georgia Dome. Since 2008, the Packers’ defense is 5-12 in regular-season games in which a back rushes 20 or more times.

The idea that this year’s unit is better against the run and could better withstand a healthy dose of Turner is speculative at best. In four games, the defense has been relatively untested in terms of defending the run.

All of Green Bay’s opponents — the Saints (21 rushes), Panthers (21), Bears (12) and Broncos (23) — came up short of the workload Turner had as an individual (26) in Atlanta’s 30-28 win over the Seahawks. For Chicago, it was the fewest attempts in a game against the Packers in the history of the series.

Those 77 rushes by the competition are the third fewest Green Bay has had to contend with in the opening four games of a season. It’s the lightest workload they’ve been asked to shoulder since being challenged just 71 times in 2001.

But even with opportunities in short supply, Willis McGahee picked up his second 100-yard rushing performance since 2009 in Denver’s 49-23 loss to the Packers. He needed but 15 carries to carve out 103 yards.

Now imagine having to deal with Turner, only on a more frequent basis. The damage he might inflict could be on par with what he served up in the last two regular-season meetings between the Packers and Falcons.

On Oct. 5, 2008, Turner gained 121 yards on 26 carries. He had three runs of 10 or more yards and chalked up seven rushing first downs.

In last year’s encounter, he piled up 110 yards on 23 attempts. He again had three runs of 10 or more yards and chipped in five rushing first downs.

Green Bay lost both games by three points.

That said, the Packers have proven they can hold Turner in check. They did so in their 48-21 rout of the Falcons in the playoffs in January.

Duplicating that effort will not be easy. In January, Green Bay limited Turner to 37 first-half yards while jumping to a 14-point halftime lead. The bruising running back then had one carry in the third quarter, but wasn’t heard from again after the Packers went up 42-14 later in the period.

Extra point

Turner has scored 42 rushing touchdowns during the regular season since coming to Atlanta in 2008. Only Adrian Peterson of the Vikings (43) has produced more during that time.

Regular-season series

Overall: tied 12-12.

At Georgia Dome: Atlanta is 2-1.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (31-20 overall; 0-2 vs. Atlanta).

Falcons: Matt Ryan (35-15; 2-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Falcon, now a Packer

Safety Charlie Peprah (2009) is a former Falcon.

Once a Packer, now a Falcon

There are no former Packers on the Falcons’ roster.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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